Our youth today are growing up in a culture that surrounds them with sexual imagery and messages—but one in which marriage is often delayed until the late twenties or later. Historically, public health prevention messages have singled out abstinence until marriage as the most effective way to remain free of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), but this message does not serve well in the absence of comprehensive sexual education and a supportive environment.
Comprehensive Sex Ed
Research clearly shows that comprehensive sex education programs do not encourage teens to start having sexual intercourse, do not increase the frequency with which teens have intercourse, and do not increase the number of a teen’s sexual partners. Research also shows that sex education programs that promote abstinence only have in fact proven ineffective.
Federal appropriations for abstinence-only education programs have exceeded $1 billion since 1982. However, reviews have found that none of the programs has shown a positive impact on sexual behavior or STDs over time. Furthermore, some research shows that young adults who made virginity pledges (to abstain from sexual intercourse until marriage) as teens ultimately have rates of STIs similar to young adults who did not make such promises as teens and are less likely to use contraception or protection when they do become sexually active.
A position paper of the Society for Adolescent Medicine published in the Journal of Adolescent Health discussed two reviews that evaluated the evidence supporting abstinence-only programs and comprehensive sexuality education programs designed to promote abstinence. As the authors note, “Neither review found scientific evidence that abstinence-only programs demonstrate efficacy in delaying initiation of sexual intercourse. Likewise, research on adolescents taking virginity pledges suggest that failure rates for the pledge are very high, especially when biological outcomes such as STIs are considered. Although it has been suggested that abstinence-only education is 100% effective, these studies suggest that, in actual practice, efficacy may approach zero.”
If you are an educator who supports comprehensive sex education, we hope you find this site and our site for teens and young adults—iwannaknow.org-—useful resources for both you and your students. Both sites offer information on sexual health for teens and young adults, including comprehensive information on sexually transmitted infections, as well as information on healthy relationships, and more.
AMAZE uses digital media to provide children, adolescents, their parents and educators with medically accurate, affirming, and honest sexual health information along with free, engaging resources including age-appropriate animated videos for adolescents 10-14.
Advocates for Youth
Advocates for Youth is a nonprofit that champions efforts to help young people make informed and responsible decisions about their reproductive and sexual health. Advocates believes it can best serve the field by boldly advocating for a more positive and realistic approach to adolescent sexual health. Advocates for youth has designed lesson plans for elementary, middle and high school-aged youth. Educators can combine these lesson plans into a sexual health curriculum or use them to augment a science-based program.
Answer, part of the Center for Applied Psychology at Rutgers University, is a national organization dedicated to providing and promoting comprehensive sexuality education in the United States. Answer offers lesson plans on a variety of health topics for grades 8-12, including abstinence and sexual decision-making, body and self image, and love and relationships.
Guidelines for Comprehensive Sexuality Education: Kindergarten–12th Grade
From SIECUS (the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States), the Guidelines, developed by a national task force of experts in the fields of adolescent development, health care, and education, provide a framework of the key concepts topics, and messages that all sexuality education programs would ideally include.